Over the past several months, alcohol consumption has received increased attention as public interest has turned to alcoholic beverages throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Quarantines and restaurant and bar closures have driven increased at-home drinking, consumer behavior that is confirmed by data showing alcohol consumption up since the pandemic began.
At the same time, we’ve seen a number of policy shifts that seek to expand the public’s access to alcohol even more. The Texas Legislature is currently considering several proposals that would do exactly this, including Senate Bill 757, which would allow the direct shipment of alcohol to consumers. Specifically, the bill would allow giant corporations like Amazon to sidestep current protocols and make it easier than ever for underage drinkers to buy alcoholic beverages.
Alcohol is the drug most widely used by youth and is linked to serious consequences — like traffic crashes and fatalities, poor academic performance, increased dropout rates, addiction, sexual assault and suicide. Young people who drink are at higher risk for low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. If they start drinking before age 15, they're five times more likely to have problems with alcohol later in life.
Alcohol use is responsible for more youth deaths than all other drugs combined. In 2019, more than a quarter (27%) of drivers in alcohol-related crashes in Texas were 25 years old and younger, and 7% of all DUI drivers involved in fatal crashes were under age 21. It is also the substance they report as easiest to get. The alarming fact of the matter is that SB 757 would make it even easier.
Currently, alcohol sales in Texas are structured within a three-tier system. Producers can sell their products only to wholesale distributors who then sell to retailers, and only retailers may sell to consumers. SB 757 undercuts this system and opens the floodgates for underage access and misuse.
The three-tier system of alcohol distribution was designed to regulate distribution because alcohol is not an ordinary commodity. In part, this regulatory framework was put in place to protect the public from alcohol misuse and associated harms. The checks and balances within the three-tier system provide a foundation to protect both public health and safety.
Senate Bill 757, by allowing direct-to-consumer sales, erodes these protections. It also takes away the safeguards that are designed to protect youth from a product that can cause significant harm to themselves and to others, particularly in cases of drunk driving. It creates new gaps in the system, new opportunities for our kids to take advantage of and for the alcohol industry to capitalize on.
We cannot allow this bill to move forward. Lawmakers must understand the risks associated with this legislation — and that those risks clearly outweigh any benefit they may believe exists. It is our job as adults to protect kids, to limit their access to things that present harm and to make it harder — not easier — to access them. We hope our elected officials will realize this, and decide that SB 757 is a misguided and dangerous policy to pursue.
We call on them to put kids first — and to put an end to this bill.